ORLANDO — Four students who were expelled from Florida A&M University for their role in what is believed to be the hazing death of a marching band member have returned to classes because the investigation is not finished, school officials said Wednesday.
The status of band director Julian White also changed. He had faced termination Dec. 22 but is now on administrative leave with pay, FAMU attorney David Self said during a break in meetings of the school's board of trustees in Orlando.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement asked the university to stop any disciplinary action until a criminal investigation into the death of Robert Champion is done, FAMU officials said. Detectives say hazing played a role in his Nov. 19 death. He died aboard a band bus after a football game against rival Bethune-Cookman University. Witnesses said he vomited before becoming unresponsive.
"According to the FDLE letter, all disciplinary action had to cease," said Henry Kirby, dean of students.
White's attorney called the change in White's status "a step in the right direction." He said White will seek full reinstatement as band director and as a fully tenured music professor.
"We still intend to explore all the legal options in light of the university's collective bargaining agreement and Dr. White's contract," said Chuck Hobbs.
The famed Marching 100 band has been shuttered as the death is investigated by the Orange County Sheriff's Office, the FDLE and Florida's higher education governing body, the Board of Governors.
Rick Mitchell, an attorney for that board, told the trustees that Champion's family had sent a letter indicating it plans to sue over his death.
Mitchell said Florida law limits the board's liability to $300,000, although individuals could be liable for a larger amount if they were found to have acted in bad faith or with malicious purpose or to have exhibited wanton disregard for safety.
The board of trustees didn't address the future of James Ammons, the university's president, but left open the possibility it would be a topic of discussion today.